On Germany's national soccer stage, why have East Germans gone missing?
Posted by admin on 13th June 2018

Germany is a soccer powerhouse.

Yet only one member of the national team competing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, midfielder Toni Kroos, hails from East Germany.

For a period of over 40 years in the 20th century, Germany was divided into two separate countries, East and West. But it’s been almost 30 years since reunification took place, and you would think most regional disparities would have diminished.

So why, today, is German soccer so dominated by players and clubs from the West? And what does this imbalance say about the state of the German reunification?

Capitalist vs. communist soccer

During the Cold War from the late 1940s to October 1990, capitalist West Germany was allied with the United States, while communist East Germany was allied with the Soviet Union.

After Germany’s defeat in World War II, the victorious powers had all sports organizations in the country dismantled.

A few years later, the East German government reintroduced amateur soccer as a workplace physical education program in the large, state-run cooperatives that emerged after the nationalization of the economy.

Meanwhile, in the early 1960s, a professional soccer league, the Bundesliga, was founded in the West.

Unlike their Western counterparts that operated as commercial enterprises, East German clubs were tightly controlled organizations run by the socialist state. The East German government did invest in sports. But they tended to prioritize the country’s Olympic athletes, not its soccer clubs.

Some East German soccer clubs, such as 1. FC Magdeburg, did achieve considerable success in international competitions. The country’s greatest national soccer moment was Jürgen Sparwasser’s game-winning goal against West Germany during the 1974 World Cup held in West Germany. Most East Germans over the age of 50 could tell you exactly where they were when they witnessed this goal; it was their generation’s Kennedy moment.